Have you heard the news? Nigeria’s National Assembly has budgeted N150billion for itself in 2017. It’s perhaps a condition for passing the 2017 budget by the third or fourth week of May 2017. No word yet on the minimum wage – it remains N18, 000 per month – but now each senator or House member would be sure of at least N25m per month.
Chasing the “lawmakers” out of Eagle Square, as workers did on May Day, should make them feel ashamed. But they don’t feel shame anymore. I think the time has come for the common people of Nigeria to support us in clamouring for a part-time, unicameral legislature at every level of government. No one knows what NASS or state legislators contribute to the nation’s development. Those who still pretend they don’t understand why many are calling for Nigeria’s restructuring should note: doing something about a money-guzzling but unproductive legislature is one of the items on the restructuring agenda.
So long as we have plutocrats in power, this recession will not end. The other time, our senators imported exotic cars for themselves. And what does the common man get? Misery, death, false hope, lies and bigger lies.
In defence of the N150billion NASS has appropriated to itself, up from N120billion, one senator claimed it’s meant also for 5, 000 legislative aides and perhaps 4, 000 other staff members. He stopped short of “explaining” that “constituency projects” are also in the picture.
These people take us for fools. But are we fools? When a state governor and a House speaker were publishing their pay packets some weeks ago, they didn’t disclose the sundry allowances they earned. We know how contracts are awarded, how trips are sponsored, and how oversight functions are performed especially in “juicy” agencies. When a senator or a minister owns a N2billion house in Asokoro or in Enugu, we know the sources of the money. Those are not assets one should blow the whistle on. Nor should one tell the EFCC that a governor bought a N15m car for one of his mistresses.
Whenever we quote figures as the earnings of our senators and House members, they evade the issue. Those of them that appear on radio and TV programmes usually ramble on irrelevant things. None says what they earn; it’s as if they swore to an oath of secrecy.
I ask again, as I did almost seven years ago: how much does it cost us Nigerian taxpayers to keep one senator or rep?
When Olusegun Obasanjo (who should be an authority because he was president and his daughter was also in the Senate) said one senator consumed N250m per year, all the NASS people could say was that he was the grandfather of corruption. Also, when Professor Eskor Toyo mentioned a similar figure in a golden jubilee lecture – he said each received N20m per month – some “distinguished senators” upbraided Toyo on the floor of the Senate. “I don’t see N20m,” one said. He never said how much he collected every month for shouting “aye” and “nay” maybe twice a month. When then CBN governor (now Emir of Kano) Sanusi raised the same issue, the lawmakers attempted to deflate him and make him look stupid. They failed.
There’s a lesson in “lying with statistics”. However, relying on a report released by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) in 2010, this column and several others calculated that a Nigerian senator took about N30m per month while a rep got about N25m. That was after the lawmakers succeeded in raising their own salaries and allowances in 2010. The RMAFC document states, among others, that some 17, 000 officeholders were paid about N1.4trillion in 2009 – about one-third of what the other 170 million Nigerians shared. Each chairman of a NASS committee was paid N150m per quarter (every three months). This does not include allowances for constituency projects (N45m per quarter). It has been estimated that every bill passed by NASS costs the taxpayer N3billion!
Is there any other proof that corruption is the only industry that thrives in the country? When each senator was paid N5m as furniture allowance in 1999, everyone but the beneficiaries protested, not knowing that an eyesore was ahead. Now, nobody can tell what they cart home legitimately and illegitimately.
Nevertheless, it’s not easy to hide money: we see the undeserved wealth being used to buy houses in Abuja, Lagos, Dubai, London, Kano and Port Harcourt. We know those that encourage prostitution among female undergraduates and jobseekers. We know the owners of posh cars that have yet to be unveiled even in Europe where they were made. And we know those who import arms and hire thugs during election times.
What we have had in Nigeria is not a democracy but a plutocracy – government by the rich. Many prefer to call it kleptocracy – government by thieves. Do our distinguished lawmakers agree? I put this question again to the popularly elected voices of the people: how much do you receive for the wonderful work you’ve been doing? A conspiracy of silence?
Shifting blames – that’s what they have been doing. Many a lawmaker has pointed fingers at the executive branch of government to show that they (lawmakers) are the lesser thieves. They are perhaps right. Ministers, permanent secretaries, directors and other heads of ministries, departments and agencies are all involved in the mission to bleed Nigeria to death.
Luckily for the oppressors, the Nigerian people have become docile. Were it not so, they would have since invaded some “hallowed chambers” to flush out potential thieves. The people would have since demanded to know what “constituency allowance” means or what their senator and rep have been doing with theirs. All government officials that live above their legitimate incomes would have been punished in one way or another, since Nigerian jails are meant for the poor and powerless alone.
There is monumental corruption everywhere, we know. But can’t we know how much our lawmakers receive? The information shouldn’t become an official secret. It’s our money that is being shared. We have the right to know.
— By ANIEBO NWAMU
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